With Montreal’s top four defencemen locked in for the next few seasons – three until Marc Bergevin gets P.K. Subban’s contract done – and with at least one of Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu
likely to make the full-time jump to the NHL, there’s not much room on the defensive end
of things. Depth is needed for the 82-game and postseason grind and that’s likely where Bergevin will look to bulk up the back-end.
Here’s what’s available in a pretty weak defensive free agent pool:
Matt Niskanen (PIT) It was a breakout year for the former first round pick of the Dallas Stars as he hit offensive career highs across the board.
It has taken some time for him to hit his stride, and part of that can be chalked up to playing in place of Kris Letang. Niskanen
will assuredly be getting a big raise from the $2.3 million he made last season.
Joni Pitkanen (CAR) Don’t feel bad, you have no idea what kind of season he just had because he missed the entire season with a foot injury. When healthy, which hasn’t happened in the last three seasons, he can contribute on
offence. He might be a one-year contract target for a team looking for some added offensive punch.
Dan Boyle (NYI) Boyle is likely looking for the last multi-year deal of his career as he’s trending towards the end of it.
His offensive stats were down last season but he can still work a wave of the powerplay, brings solid leadership to a team with a winning pedigree.
Andrej Meszaros (BOS) It was not a stellar campaign for the Czech defenceman, getting traded to Boston and having little effect in the playoffs, playing in less than half
of their games. He has had shoulder problems over the last few seasons which has limited him playing time but can still be played on
a mid-level pairing with flashes of offensive upside.
Stephane Robidas (ANA) An aging defender who’s coming off a broken leg isn’t the most enticing prospect out there. It’s slim pickings for defencemen who can play both ways in this seasons’ UFA’s, and we won’t know
for sure what he’s capable of after his injury. But, he is able to contribute offensively while being a reliable defenseman on the back-end. It’s a stretch, but a two-way defenceman in this year’s pool is nearly non-existent.
Tom Gilbert (FLA) It wasn’t a terrible season despite playing for the lowly Florida Panthers; stats wise it’s the best he’s had since 09-10. He’s still a big guy who can log reasonable minutes while chipping in a little bit offensively. Not a bad deal for a guy who made $900,000 on a one-year contract last season.
Brooks Orpik (PIT) Orpik presents a strong, solid, and likely expensive free agent signing for one NHL team out there. He’s a prototypical stay at home defenceman
who has spent his career looking after superstars, representing his country in two Olympics, and cleaning up the front of his net. To me this is the top defensive free agent available whose talents will be missed if Pittsburgh doesn’t re-sign him.
Nick Schultz (CLB) Schultz looked good in Minnesota before his +/- rating was assaulted playing for a terrible Edmonton Oilers squad. He’s a stay at home guy who probably doesn’t throw the body around as much as he could but can play a key role on the penalty kill. His $3.5 million salary last season
will be a deterrent if he’s looking for a raise.
Mike Weaver (MON) I had to. We all saw what he did in his short stay with the Canadiens. At $1.1 million last season and given what he brought to the table defensively, Montreal would be foolish to not re-sign him. The factors weighing on his being re-signed are Subban’s contract and Weaver’s age (36). Given his play, especially in the playoffs, someone will overpay a little to get him on the roster.
Options For Hamilton
With three possible options leaving the Hamilton Bulldogs in Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, and Greg Pateryn, it wouldn’t hurt to stock up on a few veterans who can fit the two-way contract mold.
As I’m sure Montreal would look to move their youngsters into the fold, it wouldn’t hurt
to pad the AHL depth chart.
Zach Redmond (WPG) A big body with some offensive upside who likes to shoot.
He’s no stranger to the up and down nature of NHL/AHL system.
Aaron Johnson (NYR) He’s a veteran of bouncing between the AHL and NHL.
Johnson has only played 10 games in the last two years at the NHL level but contributes in the
AHL. He’d be a good veteran presence for the youngsters.
Steven Kampfer (MIN) He hasn’t played in the NHL in two seasons but can be serviceable defenseman at this level.
Frederic St-Denis (CLB) He knows the organization, he knows the way
the game is played at that level, why not have him around in a leadership role since the
NHL ship has likely sailed?
Taylor Chorney (STL) He has worked the minors most of his career.
Chorney has some games at the pro level but he’d be purely a depth move to pad the roster.